• Kyodo

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President Rodrigo Duterte is planning separate visits to China and Japan next month, his first foreign trips outside Southeast Asia since assuming leadership on June 30, diplomatic sources said Thursday.

The trip to China, which sources say is scheduled for the third week of October, will show whether Duterte will stay true to his pronouncements that he will assert Manila’s victory in an international arbitration case against Beijing over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

“I am willing to talk. I am going to China. And if it is just the two of us there, I will present the problem to him. And I would say to him, ‘this piece of paper, the arbitral award, we don’t go out of the four corners of this paper. Let’s talk,’ ” Duterte, apparently referring to Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, said in a speech Thursday, without fully confirming the plan.

An arbitral tribunal in The Hague ruled July 12 that China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea has no legal basis.

The Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the sea, where Beijing has, in recent years, carried out large-scale reclamation activities on former reefs to build military and other structures on them.

Duterte spelled out a peaceful approach to dealing with China, acknowledging his nation was too ill-equipped to go to war against its more powerful neighbor and faced the possibility of losing potential investment and aid money from the world’s second-largest economy.

A few days after the China trip, Duterte will embark on a planned “working visit” to Japan, where the government is expected to commit to helping Manila expand its maritime security capabilities, the diplomatic sources said.

According to officials contacted by Kyodo News, the trip to Japan is scheduled from Oct. 25 to 27 and may include a courtesy call to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

The Imperial Couple visited the Philippines last January to mark the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Japan.

While a Philippine government source said the purpose of the trip is an “introductory meeting with the Japanese,” sources from Tokyo said the main objective, as far as Japan is concerned, is to commit to providing further maritime security assistance to Manila. Duterte met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the first time at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos this month.

Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters on Thursday a group of businessmen may be brought along to Japan for Duterte’s working visit “to push for greater trade activities” between the countries.

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